“We all live in a yellow submarine.” How many of you are singing that song in your head now? How many see a bright yellow submarine of sorts? Words to music, especially whimsical, stay in our minds but I want to point out how the use of color in writing, brings out a vivid picture.
Writing effective description that doesn’t scream, “I can write a lot of flowy words because I’m a literary writer” or “clichés are best because everyone gets it”, is a skill. My first pass of writing a novel, I’m usually lean on description, though I’m improving on that. Part of that problem is needing to gush out the story that is unfolding in my head. I’ve learned to write with less urgency (not meaning I can’t keep a schedule – NaNoWriMo 2020 proved that is not an issue). Even so, there’s nothing wrong with employing the second draft to work on translating the imagery that is in your mind into words. Where it’s appropriate it will add depth without being one long, yawning break from the plot. Third draft can weed that out again!
Back to our yellow submarine. Here’s an example from my WIP where I think a dash of color adds a fuller picture:
As soon as we enter the windowless room, it’s clear this is serious business. A long computer desk stretches across the back wall with multiple monitors and swivel chairs. There’s a coffee bar where an urn silently wafts steam. White ceramic mugs and spoons are lined up next to a pitcher of cream, a bowl of sugar and a platter of packaged muffins. Off to the side is a small table and two chairs under a blue glass pendant light.
I’m offering this example because when I read it after having put it aside for several weeks, the last sentence immediately created a picture for me. The ‘blue’ glass pendant light was like the ‘yellow’ submarine sans the song. It reminded me of how a little smattering of color can create a tone for a scene. In the example above there is also “white” used to describe ceramic mugs. This use of color is less impactful, because ceramic mugs being white are not uncommon. I could cut the ‘white’ and just say ‘ceramic mugs’ and chances are it would create the same picture as ‘white ceramic’. But just saying “under a pendant light”, feels like a flat photo as opposed to 3D. While my mind runs through all the possibilities of how that light actually looks, I’ve lost my way and distanced myself from the intended atmosphere of the room. Add back the blue, and there’s a glow of cool blue, pleasing but not warm.
What do you think? Am I right?
Color your writing like an artist, purposeful; bold where bold makes a difference and subtle where less produces the emotion and feels best.
My hope is that this post brings the tool of color to your attention or back to your attention.